“Bagoas went in as he knocked at the entry of the tent. He assumed that General Holofernes was sleeping with Judith. But when no one answered, he opened it. Then he went into the bedchamber. There he found General Holofernes sprawled on the floor dead, with his head missing. He cried out with a loud voice. He wept, groaned and shouted. He tore his clothes. Then he went to the tent where Judith had stayed. When he did not find her, he rushed out to the people and shouted.
‘The slaves have tricked us!
One Hebrew woman has brought disgrace
On the house of King Nebuchadnezzar!
General Holofernes is lying on the ground!
His head is missing!’
When the leaders of the Assyrian army heard this, they tore their tunics. They were greatly dismayed. Their loud cries and shouts rose up throughout the camp.”
Bagoas was the chief personal steward of General Holofernes. He politely knocked at the entry way to the general’s tent. He thought that the general was sleeping with Judith and did not want to disturb him. However, when no one answered, he entered the bedchamber. There he found the general sprawled out on the floor beheaded. He was really upset. He wept, groaned, and shouted as he tore his clothes. When people were upset they would tear their clothes. Then he went to the tent of Judith to see how she was. However, she was gone. Then he realized what had happened. He ran out of the tent shouting that they had been tricked by the slaves. This Hebrew woman had brought disgrace to the house of King Nebuchadnezzar. The general was dead with his head missing. When the Assyrian army leaders heard this, they tore their clothes as they too were dismayed. Thus there were loud shouts throughout the camp. Strangely enough, there was no second in command to take over things.
“When evening came, General Holofernes’ slaves quickly withdrew. Bagoas closed the tent from outside. He shut out the attendants from his master’s presence. They went to bed. They all were weary because the banquet had lasted so long. Judith was left alone in the tent. General Holofernes was stretched out on his bed. He was dead drunk. Now Judith had told her maid to stand outside the bedchamber. She was to wait for her to come out, as she did on the other days. She said that she would be going out for her prayers. She said the same thing to Bagoas. So everyone went out. No one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber.”
As the evening wore on, everyone was tired. They all began to leave. Bagoas closed the tent from the outside so that no one would disturb Judith and the general who were left alone. The problem was that the good general had over indulged and simply fell asleep on his bed because he was drunk. Judith told her maid to wait outside like she had done every other night. They would be going to say prayers. She told Bagoas the same thing. Everyone was gone. There was no one left there in the bedchamber except for Judith, who was then left alone with him. The plot thickens.
“Judith proceeded to dress herself in all her woman’s finery. Her maid went ahead of her to spread for her, on the ground before General Holofernes, the lambskins that she had received from Bagoas for her daily use in reclining. Then Judith came in and lay down. General Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her. His passion was aroused. He had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her. He said to her.
‘Have a drink!
Be merry with us!’
‘I will gladly drink, my lord,
Because today is the greatest day in my whole life.’
Then she took what her maid had prepared. She ate and drank before him. He was greatly pleased with her. He drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born.”
Judith prepared to go to meet General Holofernes. She put on her best female clothes, at least for that day. Her maid preceded her with lambskins that Bagoas the eunuch had prepared so that that she could sit on the ground to eat and drink. She then went in and reclined or lay down in front of the good general. His heart was going pitter-patter as he was aroused at the sight of her. He had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her since he first met her. He offered her a drink of wine, which she did not refuse. He wanted her to be merry. She replied that it was greatest day of her life. She had never mentioned her dead husband or if she had children. There was never any mention of them, so maybe she had no children. Then she ate the meal that her maid had provided. Although he was pleased with her, he drank more wine than he had ever drunk in his whole life. This could be a problem.
“Bagoas left the presence of General Holofernes. He approached Judith and said.
‘Let this pretty girl not hesitate to come to my lord
To be honored in his presence.
Come to enjoy drinking wine with us.
Become today like one of the Assyrian women
Like one who serves in the place of King Nebuchadnezzar.’
‘Who am I, to refuse my lord?
Whatever pleases him
I will do at once.
It will be a joy to me until the day of my death!’”
There was no reluctance on the part of Judith. The invitation of Bagoas had clear sexual overtones with the allusion to honor her as one of the Assyrian women in the king’s palace. She plainly said that she would not refuse the general. In fact, she said that she would do whatever pleased him. She indicated that she would joyfully go. There was no talk about religious dietary restrictions at this time.
“On the fourth day, General Holofernes held a banquet for his personal attendants only. He did not invite any of his officers. He said to Bagoas, the eunuch, who had charge of his personal affairs.
‘Go and persuade the Hebrew woman.
As she is in your care
To join us
And to drink with us.
It would be a disgrace
If we let such a woman go,
Without having intercourse with her.
If we do not seduce her,
She will laugh at us.’”
The plan of General Holofernes was very clear. He was having a banquet with only his own personal attendants and no officers. Bagoas, who was the eunuch in charge of the general’s personal affairs, was to invite Judith and persuade her to come to the banquet. Apparently there was a real Persian eunuch named Bagoas, who lived in the 4th century BCE, about 200 years after the supposed setting of this story. Eunuchs were men who were castrated or sometimes just impotent or celibate. They were not interested in sex or marriage so that leaders felt safe having them take care of their personal matters for them, particularly their women. General Holofernes felt it would be a disgrace to him if he did not have sex with Judith before she left camp. If he did not seduce her, she would probably laugh at him.